Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cheese is Alive, and Milk is NOT ORANGE.

I don't believe in orange cheese. Let me rephrase that. I know that some cheese ages into a deep orange-y, caramal-ish, yummy thing that must be devoured and savored simultaneously. I'm not talking about those cheeses. I'm also aware that milk color varies based on what the animals are eating. Just as there is no blue food, there is no orange milk.

Yet, people insist on dyeing their cheese orange. Here in the Midwest especially. When I first moved to Chicago I went out for a burger with some friends. I asked for Cheddar on my burger. When it came it had some orange stuff on top. I sent it back. When it came out again with the same orange stuff I told the server that I had ordered my burger with Cheddar. She then told me that that's what was on my burger. Now, up until a few years ago I lived on the east coast; NY, VT and MA with a VA stop as well. When you ask for cheddar on a burger you get white Cheddar. The way God, and farm animals intended. I was flummoxed by this orange "Cheddar."

I am going to get in so much trouble for this post I can tell.

Everyone says that coloring the milk doesn't affect the taste. Cow patties. Of course it does. Just like pasteurizing milk changes the taste (now is not the time for me to get up on my soapbox-another post I promise).

What is it that makes the cheese orange if it's not aging? Annatto seed. More specifically, it's the red flesh that surrounds the achiote seed. For centuries it has been used in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Latin America as a coloring and flavoring agent. Let me repeat that last part, a coloring and FLAVORING agent. In this country annatto is considered a natural additive exempt from certification.

Annatto is peppery and slightly sweet. Some say it has a nutmeg-ish quality to it. I've never noticed that myself though. For me, annatto dulls the natural flavor of a cheese. It's why the aged annatto dyed Cheddar from WI isn't nearly as bright and exciting to me as the 1 year White Cheddar from VT. It's the reason why when I taste the VT cheese I get grassiness, and acidity and tang and milkiness and why when I taste the WI I get a muted general milkiness and some sweetness like a roasted red pepper. Not unpleasant, just not what I want in a Cheddar.

You don't need to dye your Cheddar to have a delicious product. Just take a taste of Beecher's Handmade Cheese out of Seattle, WA. They make a ridiculously good, clothbound, Cheddar of love called Flagship Reserve. Without Annatto. It is scrumptious.


Ursula said...

I completely agree. Down with yellow cheese--it tastes funny. (OK, exceptions should be made for cheez-food items, like Kraft singles. But those aren't really cheese to begin with.)

BlogMother said...

It is not unusual for caregivers to notice that the Kraft slices which are preferred by the toddler set, are as orange as a pumpkin.
Additionally, younger people generally prefer their mac 'n cheeses to be orange.

BlogMother said...

Interestingly (to me), people who are the allergic sort, are able to detect one part in hundreds-of-millions of something that they are sensitive to.
It makes sense to me that ANY additive would be "tasted" in some subtle way, including tasteless dye.


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